Parkland Challenge. Round Two. Oulton Park.
A steady round one at Silverstone. Lee fine-tuning the last of the new parts that arrived after winter testing. The pressure of Max’s first meeting with three races on a superbike showed up issues with the muscles in his right arm – the dreaded arm-pump. Booked in before we left for the standard operation.
Another two-day test was scheduled for Oulton Park the following week. A good thing as even the experienced riders need a few laps to get up to speed on such a challenging circuit. Yet again the weather intervened and day one was a washout. We turned up for the second day which thankfully was dry but rather cold and windy. Lee was able to do more work adapting to the new swing-arm and new Pirelli front slick which has a different construction this year and is having an effect on the feel of the bike. Max’s arm operation was scheduled in for the day after the test – two full weeks to recover. He still needed the opportunity to run at Oulton ahead of the main event, but his runs was restricted five or six laps to avoid aggravating his arm.
All set for round two.
Oulton Park International
The riders’ favourite 2.7 miles in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship. Through the trees, past the lake and up and down over the rises and falls of the parkland setting. Not for the fainthearted and a real spectacle for the crowds on the viewing banks.
Before the action started there was a special event as the footbridge at Clay Hill was unveiled carrying the logo of our title sponsor Cheshire Mouldings. Series director Stuart Higgs did the honours with Cheshire Mouldings managing director John Carney, accompanied by Lee and Max on their bikes.
Max had two neat scars on his arm. All healed up and ready to go.
Free Practice and Qualifying
Bright and warm for free practice one on Saturday afternoon – not the usual Friday runs as Monday’s Bank Holiday would feature the two main races.
Max immediately noticed his bike was working better than at the test – down to the higher track surface temperature letting the tyres operate in the ideal range. Lee was still concerned to find a better feel but was fast. 16 laps and just 0.6 off Hickman’s fastest time set on newer tyres. Lee used one set of tyres and was clearly starting to feel more at home. Max got in 17 laps, again on one set of tyres. 2.1 seconds off in P20, but until a number around him took new tyres he was running strongly in the mid-field, 1.5 seconds slower than the front runners.
FP2 was compromised by a shower of rain that wetted the far end of the circuit. Most sat it out – including Max – but as conditions improved towards the end of the 40-minute session, Lee went out for seven laps and was running at the front until Brookes and Ryde upped the pace on new tyres at the very end.
All eyes on the weather forecast for Sunday afternoon – no morning running as there’s a church service in the village nearby. 15 minutes warm up to start proceedings. Wet track, drizzle in the air. Lee was comfortably in the top ten and happier again with the feel of his bike, this time in tricky conditions. Max’s focus was on getting a feel for a wet Oulton Park for the first time.
Qualifying was later than usual with Max going in Q1. Lee was straight through to Q2 as he was one of the 12 fastest Saturday runners. Little did we know that the session would throw up more ‘IFs’ than we could imagine. The rain had stopped - the track was still wet but drying. Wet tyres for Max and he kept reacting to the changing surface throughout the 12-minute session. With the fastest six to progress to Q2, the final lap would be key as conditions improved.
Max soon built up a rhythm and was in and out of the top six as the lap times started to drop. One lap to go and he was P7 just 0.025 off sixth position. Through turn one – Old Hall – Max caught Perie but lost 0.8 getting past – he posted personal bests in the remaining three sectors but just missed out, by 0.035. IF he had not lost time earlier in the lap he would have been through comfortably – probably as high as P3. Pity, but another confident showing.
Lee was waiting to go out and with Max briefing him on track conditions he took the aggressive decision to go on slick tyres front and rear, trusting his skills in difficult conditions. It was a risk but good to roll the dice as last year a couple of conservative tyre choices had let us down. Others went with all wet tyres; others on intermediates and one or two with a wet front and slick rear. In the event the gamble didn’t pay off as the slick front tyre didn’t offer enough grip on corner entry and Lee trailed in a disappointed P18. IF the session had lasted another five minutes it could have made all the difference. It had been a ‘hero or zero’ call and we would have looked clever if Lee had been on pole by two seconds…..
As a result of the qualifying dramas. Lee had to start the 12-lap race from row seven with Max just behind him. Both had work to do and Lee especially would be hoping to make up a good number of places and set a decent lap time for an improved grid position for race two.
Both got away well but Lee was caught out in the turn one shakeout and completed the first lap one place up – P17 with Max just behind. Six laps in, Lee had moved up to P11, hard on the heels of Kent and setting the same lap times as the leaders. Max was deep in a six-rider battle for the final points scoring positions. Lee cleared Kent and set off after Stacey, Iddon and Ryde who were 1.5 seconds ahead. Going on to lap 11, Lee passed Stacey into turn one and was right on top of Iddon and Ryde. He was on for a strong recovery to P7 when our luck turned again. Red flag. Shower of rain at the Shell Oils hairpin and as the race had passed two-thirds distance it was called a result at the end of lap 10. That put Lee back behind Stacy – P10! Max battled away but lost out to the experienced riders he was dicing with – P20 but only two seconds shy of Kent in P15.
Track damp from overnight rain for the 15-minute warm up session on Monday morning. Good news was the weather looked to be set for a dry afternoon.
18 lap races so an extra 6 laps to test Max’s arm on the most physical circuit. Max was starting all the way back in P21, in amongst the group he’d be fighting with again. He made a good start and got stuck in making up four places on lap one, P17, and joining a race long battle with Mossey. On lap eight Max was up to P15 and in the points! A lap later he passed Mossey for P14, only to be passed back three laps further on. In the final few laps, they caught Tom Neave and Todd, the four of them covered by less than a second over the line. A mistake by Todd at the final corner and in the charge to the line Max got his P14 back – two points scored. Big milestone – well done Max! His arm was fine.
Lee’s recovery ride in race one netted him the seventh fastest lap so he would lead off row three, right behind the race one front runners. Lost a couple of places off the line which soon became just one as Hickman crashed out of the lead at Old Hall, 200 yards from the start! Lee had a lonely race in P8. Only action was when he passed Iddon on lap two but soon got repassed. He finished in a big gap between Iddon and Kennedy, frustrated as he’d not had the race one pace. Still trying to get comfortable with the feel of the new front tyre was leading to a slightly more cautious approach in the high-speed corners.
Max started from P19 and came round P16 after another decent first lap. On his third tour he recorded a time of 1.35.8, just 1.4 slower than Bridewell’s fastest lap and within in 0.1 of Rory Skinner’s best on his first visit to Oulton. Despite his speed, Max got caught behind Todd and just just couldn’t make a pass – other than one big effort which Todd immediately reversed. Tom Neave led the group again, but others were able to close on Max as he was stuck on a pace about 0.5 a lap slower than he was capable of. To add to his frustration, he got pipped on the run to line by Perie – the difference just 0.052 with Todd a further 0.3 in front. P17, fractions of a second away from scoring another point after another impressive but sensible performance.
Lee went on a revised suspension setting to help improve the feel from his front tyre. It helped to the extent that he ran a faster race and was closer to the leaders but still not quite there. It didn’t help that turn one was another muddle. Starting from P9 on the inside of row three, Lee emerged P11 with work to do. The race settled down with Lee running P9, following Iddon again. They passed a slowing Andrew Irwin later in the race and crossed the line with Lee 0.1 behind Iddon and eight seconds back from winner Glenn Irwin.
Some frustrations but overall, a promising weekend for Max. Lee is making progress getting to grips with the new specification of his ZX-10RR and how it works the new front tyre. Plenty to work on.
Lee has moved on to 37 points, ninth in the second group behind the new Ducatis and BMWs. And Max is on the scoreboard, 2 points, P21!
Rookies Cup standings. Max has 80 points for his efforts – P3 and on the same number as Todd but two behind Perie because of getting pipped by him on the line.
After a hectic start to the season with the various tests and first two rounds completed, it’s good to have a couple of weekends off. Then it’s off to our local round at Donington Park, on the full Grand Prix layout. Max is really looking forward to his home round and Lee is always a strong performer there.
We will have time to go through everything we’ve learned so far to help Max along his learning curve, especially now that we know the operation to address his arm-pump problems has been a success. As well as some engine development work, the priority will be to go deep into the data to see what more we can do to fine-tune the set-up of Lee’s bike.
Sponsors and Supporters
Finally, a grateful word to the teams at Cheshire Mouldings and Kawasaki UK, and all our trade supporters. We couldn’t do it without you. See all the names on our sponsors panel below.
See you at Donington Park in a couple of weeks.
Nigel. Team Principal.